In this introduction to the basic steps of market research, the reader can find help with framing the research question, figuring out which approach to data collection to use, how best to analyze the data, and how to structure the market research findings and share them with clients.
The market research process consists of six discrete stages or steps. They are as follows:
- Step 1 - Articulate the research problem and objectives
- Step 2 - Develop the overall research plan
- Step 3 – Collect the data or information
- Step 4 – Analyze the data or information
- Step 5 – Present or disseminate the findings
- Step 6 – Use the findings to make the decision
The third step of market research — Collect the Data or Information — entails several important decisions. One of the first things to consider at this stage is how the research participants are going to be contacted. There was a time when survey questionnaires were sent to prospective respondent via the postal system. As you might imagine, the response rate was quite low for mailed surveys, and the initiative was costly.
Telephone surveys were also once very common, but people today let their answering machines take calls or they have caller ID, which enables them to ignore calls they don't want to receive. Surprisingly, the Pew Foundation conducts an amazingly large number of surveys, many of which are part of longitudinal or long-term research studies. Large-scale telephone studies are commonly conducted by the Pew researchers and the caliber of their research is top-notch.
Some companies have issued pre-paid phone cards to consumers who are asked to take a quick survey before they use the free time on the calling card. If they participate in the brief survey, the number of free minutes on their calling card is increased. Some of the companies that have used this method of telephone surveying include Coca-Cola, NBC, and Amaco.
Methods of Interviewing
In-depth interviews are one of the most flexible ways to gather data from research participants. Another advantage of interviewing research participants in person is that their non-verbal language can be observed, as well as other attributes about them that might contribute to a consumer profile. Interviews can take two basic forms: Arranged interviews and intercept interviews.
Arranged interviews are time-consuming, require logistical considerations of planning and scheduling, and tend to be quite expensive to conduct. Exacting sampling procedures can be used in arranged interviews that can contribute to the usefulness of the interview data set. In addition, the face-to-face aspect of in-depth interviewing can result in exposure to interviewer bias, so training of interviewers necessarily becomes a component of an in-depth interviewing project.
Intercept interviews take place in shopping malls, on street corners, and even at the threshold of people's homes. With intercept interviews, the sampling is non-probabilistic. For obvious reasons, intercept interviews must be brief, to the point, and not ask questions that are off-putting. Otherwise, the interviewer risks seeing the interviewee walk away. One version of an intercept interview occurs when people respond to a survey that is related to a purchase that they just made. Instructions for participating in the survey are printed on their store receipt and, generally, the reward for participating is a free item or a chance to be entered in a sweepstakes.
Online data collection is rapidly replacing other methods of accessing consumer information. Brief surveys and polls are everywhere on the Web. Forums and chat rooms may be sponsored by companies that wish to learn more from consumers who volunteer their participation. Cookies and clickstream data send information about consumer choices right to the computers of market researchers. Focus groups can be held online and in anonymous blackboard settings. Market research has become embedded in advertising on digital platforms.
There are still many people who do not regularly have access to the Internet. Providing internet access for people who do not have connections at home or are intimidated by computing or networking can be fruitful. Often, the novelty of encountering an online market research survey or poll that looks like and acts like a game is incentive enough to convert reticent Internet users.
Characteristics of Data Collection
Data collection strategies are closely tied to the type of research that is being conducted as the traditions are quite strong and have resilient philosophical foundations. In the rapidly changing field of market research, these traditions are being eroded as technology makes new methods available. The shift to more electronic means of surveying consumers is beneficial in a number of ways. Once the infrastructure is in place, digital data collection is rapid, relatively error-free, and often fun for consumers. Where data collection is still centralized, market researchers can eliminate the headache of coding data by inputting responses into computers or touch screens. The coding is instantaneous and the data analysis is rapid.
Regardless of how data is collected, the human element is always important. It may be that the expert knowledge of market researchers shifts to different places in the market research stream. For example, the expert knowledge of a market researcher is critically important in the sophisticated realm of Bayesian Networks simulation and structured equation modeling — two techniques that are conducted through computer modeling. Intelligently designed market research requires planning regardless of the platform. The old adage still holds true: Garbage in, garbage out.
- Kotler, P. (2003). Marketing Management (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., Prentice Hall.
- Lehmann, D. R. Gupta, S., and Seckel, J. (1997). Market Research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.